NFL commissioner Roger Goodell would very much like to move past the three-week debacle that was the league's dalliance with low-grade and low-paid replacement refs. Even though the league and the NFL Referees Association have agreed to terms on a new eight-year collective bargaining agreement, Goodell still had to do some fancy footwork when the media presented him with some tough questions in his post-CBA conference call and press conference.
"They key thing is when there is conflict, sometimes it takes time to resolve," Goodell said of the experience. "What you have to do is make sure you respect the principle points of the two conflicting parties and make sure you get the long-term agreement that is respectful to both sides, and it can create a win-win situation. You don't want to enter into a bad agreement for either side. The fact that we came out of this with an eight-year agreement is important. We will continue to be able to improve officiating. That is good for the game. That is our primary concern — making sure we get what is good for the game here.
[Related: 10 worst miscues of the replacement refs]
"Obviously, when you go through something like this, it is painful for everybody. Most importantly, it is painful for our fans. We are sorry to have to put our fans through that, but it is something that in the short term you sometimes have to do to make sure you get the right kind of deal for the long term and make sure you continue to grow the game."
But for a man interested in "protecting the shield," as he has said many times, putting a substandard product on the field makes little sense. And what about the threats to player safety? According to Goodell, there weren't any.
"I do not believe that this put any greater risk to player health and safety. There is no data to back that up. We obviously have all kinds of backup systems that exist when you are using either replacement or regular officials such as film review, where we evaluate intensively every play of every game. From time to time, plays are missed where we think calls should have been made and discipline can follow — even when the call is not made on the field. Discipline can follow that can be in the form of a fine or suspension. So that happens. But these officials were trained for three months with a very intensive focus on making sure that player health and safety was their first priority."
Well, if they were trained for three entire months, who on earth can argue with that?
Goodell said that what happened Monday night between the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers did play a part in negotiations -- probably more than he wanted to let on. But when pressed on the particulars of the contested touchdown by receiver Golden Tate that put a win in the Seahawks' coffers when it probably should have gone the other way, the Commish fell back on one of his favorite tactics -- an infuriating evasiveness that serves nobody.
"The first mistake that was made on that play was the pass interference and the fact that they did not call offensive pass interference," Goodell said. "That clearly was a mistake. I have not had the opportunity to look through it with our officiating department because I have been in negotiations almost nonstop since the game.
"Their view was that on the field, when you have a call that close, that it stays with the officials on the field. Replay was not in a position to be able to get evidence that they think was sufficient to overturn it. That is a close call. Those are decisions that our officiating department will make. They felt that standing behind the officials' call was the appropriate thing, and I will stand behind that."
[Related: Replacement ref defends Monday night call]
Whether he's seen the play or not. Alrighty, then.
When asked whether some of the outrage about the call was based on the league's insistence that the officials were correct, Goodell issued a soundbite that rang hollow.
"That is the beauty of sports and the beauty of officiating, that there are controversial calls and people see them differently," he said. "I understand that. That is the beauty of sports."
Well, not really. There was nothing beautiful about those three weeks of replacement games, as they should probably be remembered. This was an embarrassment to the league and a disservice to front offices, coaches, players, and fans, none of whom had a say in this ridiculous process.
"I think it's broader than that on anything," he said, when asked if he thought there would be any long-term negative impact on the NFL. "I think you're always worried about the short-term impact on your brand and the long-term impact on your brand. Obviously, this has gotten a lot of attention. It hasn't been positive and it's something that you have to fight through and get to the long term. That's what we've been able to do by getting to an eight-year agreement. We always are going to have to work harder to make sure we get people's trust and confidence in us.
"We're going to have to work harder to do that and we will. I think this agreement and getting it behind us and now moving back into football, improving officiating, making sure we do the kind of things that have made the NFL great, that's a positive thing for us, and we look forward to moving on to that."
Goodell has more complications to address when he gets around to moving on -- he must defend himself in Jonathan Vilma's defamation lawsuit, deal with an increasingly skeptical populace when it comes to the evidence he did or did not have in the Saints bounty scandal, and deal with an ever-increasing number of injury-related lawsuits filed in courts by former players.
Roger Goodell may have diffused one of the ticking bombs on his plate, but there's work to do on the others. And for these things, he has nobody but himself to blame.
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